CAPACITY FOR GROWTH

Jamaica 2018 | AGRIFOOD & INDUSTRY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to William Mahfood, CEO of Wisynco Group, on the group's various business arms, the importance of environmental sustainability, and its plans to increase capacity.

William Mahfood
BIOGRAPHY
William Mahfood is Chairman of the Wisynco Group, a leading Jamaican company in the manufacturing, distribution, and retail of beverages, quick service restaurants, and consumer products. His career began as a warehouse supervisor at Wisynco Trading, followed by a 20-year stint as the company’s Managing Director and subsequently Chairman of the Wisynco Group in 2014. Mahfood received an honorary doctor of public service degree from Northern Caribbean University and the American Chamber of Commerce Business and Civic Leadership Awards for Excellence - President’s Award. Most recently, he was awarded the American Friends of Jamaica 2017 International Humanitarian Award. He received his degree in industrial engineering and information systems from Northeastern University in Boston.

Can you give us a brief overview of your different activities and the synergies between them?

Wisynco Group celebrated 50 years in 2015. It is completely a Jamaican and family-owned company, and it has a number of subsidiaries. We are making changes in terms of the structure, and the company plans to list on the stock exchange soon. This will, perhaps, be the largest listing on a local stock exchange in the country's history. The primary part of the business and the majority of it is distribution and manufacturing; we produce beverages and plastic disposables in two factories and also have three subsidiaries. In addition to producing our own brands, we also manage on a third-party basis brands such as Red Bull, General Mills, Kellogg's, and more. In total, including our subsidiaries, we have over 3,500 employees, the majority of which are in the main distribution and manufacturing company. The main business is quite diverse and locally manufactured products make up more than 70%. Our other main business is distribution; we have the widest coverage and distribution network in the country. We service around 13,000 customers with a sales team of almost 700 people, and our penetration in small outlets with all these brands and products is difficult to compete against. Virtually our entire production is produced, finished, and distributed by us.

To what extent is protecting the environment a key part of your operations?

A large focus for us as a company is environmental sustainability, and because we are the largest producers of plastic in the country, this is an issue that we take seriously. Historically, we have also driven the whole environmental view of plastics, recycling, and so on. However, we need more support from the government on this area. There is a global standard that Coca-Cola has that we have to comply with as a Coca-Cola bottler: by 2020, we have to be able to put back every drop of water in the ecosystem that we take out, and there cannot be any waste of water at all. Similar to these, there are global standards for environmental waste, energy, and so on that we are moving toward.

Can you also elaborate on your operations outside of Jamaica?

We have primarily distribution partners, and our main export markets outside of Jamaica are the UK and US. We also have essentially full regional coverage in most of the markets, except the Dominican Republic. From time to time, we sell in Central America, though our main markets in the Caribbean are the English-speaking territories for a number of reasons such as laws, competitive issues, and language; we do not have a great record dealing with Spanish-speaking markets.

Are international markets something that you would like to develop?

From our plan to list on the stock exchange, we are raising capital to expand our local production to increase exports. We are new on the beverage side of the business. Over time, we have continued to expand and increase capacity, and every time we put in additional capacity, the local market has absorbed it and we just could not build enough scale to get a real export market going. We are doing a major expansion, and this will be the single-largest capital investment the company has ever made. We completed a warehouse and have added an additional 12,000sqm to the original building and have about 1,500sqm of offices as well. We are also putting in about 3,000sqm of storage facilities to increase our distribution capacity. This will be by far the largest facility in the English-speaking Caribbean. The next expansion will come in part from the proceeds of the listing on the stock exchange, and also some debt. That will give us an additional 30-40% increase in capacity in the next two years, and we hope to expand into the international markets on a bigger scale from that.